California Fishermen are Suing Their State to Protect Delta Water Flows

San Francisco, Calif. — Yesterday a coalition of environmental, fishing, and Native American groups led by the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association (PCFFA) filed suit against the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) to overturn its latest attempt to press former Governor Jerry Brown’s Twin Tunnel (California WaterFix) proposal upon California taxpayers.

The suit, filed in Sacramento Superior Court, challenges DWR’s attempt to revamp its 30-year-old Coordinated Operations Agreement (COA) with the federal Bureau of Reclamation to export more water from the Delta through the Twin Tunnels while evading scrutiny under California’s environmental laws.

Joining the PCFFA in filing suit are the North Coast Rivers Alliance, and the Winnemem Wintu tribe.

The lawsuit alleges that DWR’s attempted COA addendum would export more water from California’s Delta and its upstream reservoirs when we can least afford it — during drought years — for export to Southern California water interests. Although the impacts on the Delta’s beleaguered salmon and other fisheries could be potentially calamitous, DWR has claimed no environmental review was needed. It granted itself an exemption from the California Environmental Quality Act on the grounds that their action was merely an “ongoing operation” of the State Water Project (SWP).

Opponents argue that DWR’s revision of the COA would worsen existing SWP operations by increasing exports when the Delta has the least water available for fish. PCFFA Executive Director Noah Oppenheim likened this evasion of environmental review to “old-style political double-speak,” adding that, “instead of restoring the Delta as scientists agree is critically overdue, the Twin Tunnels would steal its flows when fish most need protection, pushing salmon fishermen closer to the brink.”

The lawsuit additionally charges that DWR’s COA addendum would violate the Delta Reform Act and the Public Trust Doctrine, both of which forbid DWR from exporting more water and require instead that it restore natural flows.

Before DWR began exporting Delta waters south some 50 years ago, historic outflows to San Francisco Bay supported salmon runs in the millions of fish. Today, several salmon species are clinging to survival as their numbers have dwindled to a fraction of their historic population.

Excessive Delta exports have resulted in drastically lower Delta flows and higher water temperatures, destroying the habitat salmon need to migrate upstream to their spawning grounds to reproduce, and then return to the ocean as juveniles.

AS PCFFA’s Oppenheim observes, “we are now facing extinction of the Bay Area’s salmon, and the livelihood of those fishing families who make up the backbone of our local fishing industry.”


The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations is the largest commercial fishermen’s organization on the West Coast, representing 17 local and regional associations from Santa Barbara to Southeast Alaska. As a major commercial fishing industry trade association, PCFFA represents the interests of commercial fishing families who make their living harvesting and delivering high-quality seafood to America’s tables.